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Teardown has neighbors riled up

Concerns include asbestos removal

This partly demolished Victorian-era house at 34 Raymond St. in Allston has neighbors concerned about asbestos. This partly demolished Victorian-era house at 34 Raymond St. in Allston has neighbors concerned about asbestos. (GEORGE RIZER/GLOBE STAFF)

Should the burden of policing real estate developers fall into the laps of neighbors? That question is being raised by a small group of Allston residents who say the City of Boston isn't doing a good job keeping an eye on what property owners are doing once they're granted building or demolition permits.

The neighbors' beef is over a Victorian-era home at 34 Raymond St. that's being razed to make way for two buildings that will house 24 to 27 bedrooms and 14 parking spaces for what is most likely student housing, they say.

Abutters had hoped the single-family home, built in the 1890s, would be preserved after the Boston Landmarks Commission deemed it had historic significance, said Dorothy McDonough, who lived next door for 60 years and owns the home where her adult children now live.

The commission held two hearings last fall and imposed a 90-day demolition delay on the property in order to try to persuade the owner to preserve it, she said.

But after months of calling the Inspectional Services Division and City Councilor Jerry McDermott's office and being assured by both that demolition permits had not been issued, Marcus Aurin, who lives on the other side of 34 Raymond, said he and his neighbors were shocked when workers showed up on July 18 and began tossing out radiators and pipes in preparation for a full-scale demolition.

After neighbors alerted ISD, an inspector showed up the next day and issued a stop-work order, said Lisa Timberlake, a spokeswoman for the division.

A demolition permit was issued on July 23, she said. But neighbors say they were up in arms again only a week later, when workers began tearing off roof shingles that contained asbestos without a permit to remove asbestos, and without taking proper safety precautions.

Aurin said after he called the city's Department of Public Health about the asbestos removal, the department sent over an inspector who immediately shut down the project again, on Aug. 1.

Since late July, the house has been left in a half-torn-down state, pending the outcome of a soil-contamination test, said Timberlake, who noted homeowners must get a separate permit issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection if asbestos needs to be removed.

"Our question is, were we contaminated?" said McDonough. "We don't know, and it is a concern."

The DEP ordered developer Richard Garaffo to hire a licensed asbestos-abatement firm and submit a plan for removing the contaminated materials, said department spokesman Joe Ferson. That plan has now been approved, he said.

The firm will be required to submit the results of its contamination tests to the department, and the property will undergo a reinspection before it's cleared for further development, said Ferson.

A call to Garaffo's office was not returned.

Aurin and McDonough say they're also frustrated with city officials for either giving them no information or the wrong information about the status of the project for several months. "We've been given considerable erroneous info," said McDonough, who called ISD "most uncooperative."

"My feeling is that if a developer can trample over the neighbors like this, then Harvard will pretty much have free rein in what it does," McDonough's daughter Lisa wrote in an e-mail about the university's plan to expand its campus into her neighborhood.

Timberlake said, "Our inspector has been on top of it and been at the site quite a few times," but added the division has just 17 to 18 inspectors covering the entire city and can't be everywhere all the time. "We can't catch everything. If we receive a complaint, we follow it up within 24 hours," she said.

Last Wednesday, the division directed Garaffo to erect a 6-foot-high fence around the perimeter to contain the contaminated debris and dust, said Timberlake.

"You don't have to be a vigilante, but if you do see something, feel free to give us a call," said Timberlake. "If we don't happen to see it, take pride in your neighborhood."